This story is true. It is about something I did a long time ago.

The bell at 1:15 pm marked the end of the school day. After the prayer, I hastily packed up my books into my bag, and ran out into the courtyard. Another busy day in kindergrten was over. With various combinations of the angular english alphabet to form words, the curvier hindi letters in confusing shapes, and other things jumping around in my head, I was running towards the school gates, where the bus would be waiting for me.

It was a hot April afternoon. Summer vacations would start in two days. However, at that moment, all I could think about was the orange cylinder of ice, sheathed in a plastic tube, that some of my friends were sucking at. This “Pepcee” was a favorite of all kids. At one rupee for the four-inch pepcee and three rupees for the twelve-inch long one, kids could afford it with their pocket money. Well, most kids could, but I could not. I could not afford it because at the time, my pocket allowance was the princely sum of zero rupees.

I had asked my parents several times to give me one rupee so that I may indulge in the pleasure of biting the pepcee, but they, in their desire to protect me from anything that may bring disease, they decided that I must stay away from the pepcee. I had absolutely no idea what the pepcee tasted like, for nobody ever shared his, and I was too poor to buy my own. Yet, the very fact that one would not share it indicated that it must be something amazing.

As these thoughts as replaced the alphabet, and were bouncing around in my little five-year old head, one of my friends walked up to me and said, “Tomorrow is the last working day before the vacations. We will buy the big pepcee tomorrow. Get three rupees for it.”

Peer pressure is a strange thing. It makes one commit to doing things one knows is impossible. I replied, “Sure!”

While the bus made its fourteen kilometre long journey from school to my home, my determination to obtain the three rupees grew stronger. I devised a master plan. I would first ask my parents to give me the three rupees. If that did not work, I would tell them that all my friends were having it. They would understand. The concept of lying had yet to be born.

Well, they did not understand. I was not a stubborn kid, so I simply walked back to my room. No sobs, just a few tears rolling down my cheeks. In fifteen minutes, all was forgotten, and I was happy as ever playing with my cars.

For some reason, I walked into the kitchen. Nobody was there. I rolled my car up the vertical cliff, and turned off at the first plateau. Weaving through the tall cylinders filled with powders of different colors, and an occasional one with some liquids, the car moved forward on its expidition. Suddenly, the intrepid explorer discovered treasure!! It was in the form of a metallic disc, with the number 3 embossed on it. Could someone have left it here? Has it been forgotten? Finally, the greed of the treasure seeker overwhelmed the well-meaning concern, and the explorer quietly picked up the disc, and put it in his pocket.

The next day was the last working day and summer vacation would begin at 1:15 pm!! Everyone was excited. The day passed very quickly, and as I rushed out of the classroom, there was only one thing on my mind. The coin in my pocket, and the twelve-inch pepcee that would soon be mine.

As I approached the gate, I started looking for the friend who had proposed the grand plan the day before. I spotted him near the pepcee cart. I ran toward to cart. The dishevelled looking pepcee seller was giving out ice cylinders of different colors, orange, green, black and yellow to little hands, in exchange for tiny metal discs. I finally reached the cart, hoping that it was not all sold out. He said, “Quick give me your three rupees!!” I pulled out my coin from my pocket and gave it to him. He was surprised. He said, “Ha!! This is not three rupees! This is a beggar’s coin.” He dropped the coin back into my hands and moved on to get his pepcee.

At that moment, I remembered what we had been taught in class a few weeks ago. The coin I had was not a three-rupee coin, such a coin did not exist. It was three paise. In my rage I flung the coin on to the road and walked back to the bus.

I never spoke of this incident to anyone until a few years ago, when I confessed to my parents about stealing three paise from them in 1988.

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